A Look at Today's
New International Version
of the Bible
by Jack P. Lewis
Today's New International Version (TNIV) is a thorough revision of the New International Version, sponsored by the International Bible Society and published by Zondervan, as the NIV was. The revision benefits from reviews and criticisms made of the NIV and will itself be subject to further review. The New Testament was issued in April; the Old Testament will be out in 2005. The Committee on Bible Translation, a self-perpetuating group made up of 15 evangelical scholars who are responsible for the NIV, is also responsible for the TNIV. The names and religious affiliations of these scholars can be had from the International Bible Society. The website for this translation is www.TNIV.info.
More than 150 million copies of the NIV (now the leading translation in sales) have been circulated world-wide. With the New Testament issued in 1973 and the complete Bible in 1978, the NIV's last major revision was in 1984. Comparisons with the NIV should be made from the 1984 edition.
English usage has continued to change in the intervening 20 years, and additional discoveries have been made that affect translations. The advanced publicity materials state that the TNIV New Testament is 93 percent parallel with the NIV and only 7 percent innovative, and add, "Only when a revision in English matched the accuracy of the original languages did it make its way into the TNIV."
The NIV will continue to be issued in its 1984 text, which was put on the worldwide web in 1995. The TNIV, which is a functional equivalence translation, will add another to the plethora of translations now on the market. Its producers affirm its accuracy and hail it as an update in colloquial English to make Scripture more understandable to the rising generation.
The NIV has been reviewed, criticized and praised over the last 30 years.1 This review will center on aspects of the 7 percent where the TNIV is different from the NIV. Old quarrels about the NIV will not be reopened except where change is involved.
Though complete literalness in an understandable translation is impossible, a century ago Bible translation theory stressed literalness to the original language. The American Standard Version, excellent for its day, was issued in word studies and in reconstructing from English the Greek that lies back of the translation. Today, through the Functional Equivalence theory attributed to the influence of Eugene Nida, many translators are not seeking literalness but are asking how an idea would be stated in the receiving language.
If one measures the Functional Equivalence translation by the literal translation theory, he is measuring it by what the preparers were not trying to do. One can argue over whether the idea expressed in English is the true equivalent of the idea in the original language. A lot of the discussion would be better spent on the validity of a theory rather than on individual translation made from it. It is not very logical to fault a saw because one cannot hammer efficiently with it.
In selecting a translation, one needs to define his purpose. If one wants to be able to reconstruct from his translation the Greek that lies back of it, a Functional Equivalence translation will disappoint him. If he wants to study the occurrences of a term in the New Testament in its various settings, he cannot do it. If, on the other hand, one wants biblical ideas expressed in normal English style and vocabulary comparable to the style and vocabulary he reads in the newspaper or a magazine, the literal translation will not give him that. Either way, translation is interpretation; one does not escape the question of whether the interpretation given is acceptable.
Some Vocabulary Changes
* Pregnant. The reader will notice that at last Mary, rather than being "with child," is "pregnant" (Matthew 1:18) as are all other expectant women in the New Testament (Matthew 24:19; Mark 13:17; Luke 1:26; 21:23; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; Revelation 12:2). The NIV in 1973 had Mary "with child," in 1978 had "pregnant," and in 1984 was back to "with child."
* Time Designations. Time designations are expressed in current terms rather than in watches or hour counts: "shortly before dawn" (Matthew 14:25), "nine in the morning" (Mark 15:25; Acts 2:15), "noon" (Mark 15:33; Acts 10:9), "three in the afternoon" (Mark 15:34; Acts 3:1), and "nine tonight" (Acts 23:23).
* Money. Money sums are sometimes expressed in dollar amounts. The man in the parable was owed a few hundred dollars while he himself owed billions of dollars (Matthew 18:23, 28). Rather than "talents" the parable is of "bags of gold" with "talent" as a footnote option (Matthew 25:15-30). However, "denarius" (Matthew 20:10) and "drachmas" (Acts 19:19) are still retained; and the gospel of Luke has the parable of the "ten minas" (Luke 19:11-27).
The Dropping of Saints
Largely, "saint," which derives from the Latin as the translation for hagios, is dropped. The TNIV uses the variety "God's people" (Romans 8:27; 16:2; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:1; 13:13; Ephesians 1:15; 3:18; 6:18; Philippians 4:21-22; Colossians 1:26; 1 Timothy 5:10; Philemon 1:5, 7; Revelation 5:8; 8:3; 13:10; 17:6; 19:8), "his people" (Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 1:12; Jude 1:3), "the Lord's people" (Romans 15:25), "people of God" (Revelation 14:12), "holy people" (2 Thessalonians 1:10; Revelation 13:7), "your people" (Revelation 11:18; 16:6), and "believers" (Acts 9:32; 26:10; Romans 15:31; 16:15).
However, exceptions are made in Romans 1:7: "called to be saints" as well as in Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; Revelation 8:4; and 18:20. This variety only makes for confusion. My reaction is that with this policy the reader must learn the meaning of the word "saint" anyway to read with understanding; hence, the modification is of uncertain value.
Christ or Messiah?
The TNIV has followed a policy of deciding when to translate Christos as "Christ" and when as "Messiah" with a footnote giving "Christ" as an alternate (1 John 2:22; 5:1). "Messiah" is especially chosen in Matthew, John and Acts. The NIV has "Messiah" only in John 1:41 and 4:25 where the Greek text has Messias but explains that it is the equivalent of Christos.
At stake here is the question of what stage of Gospel preservation the translation is going to reflect. The two terms have the same meaning; but the New Testament books are Greek books written in Greek. The speakers in the Gospels may have originally used either Hebrew or Aramaic (Philip preached the Messiah in Samaria [Acts 8:5]), but their words are not preserved for us in those languages.
In the Acts of the Apostles one meets "Jesus Christ" (Acts 8:12; 9:34; 10:48), and in Paul's letters "Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; 2:1), "Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 5:18; 1 Timothy 1:1-2, 12, 14-15), "Jesus Christ our Lord" (Jude 1:25), and "in Christ" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). In Paul's first Corinthian letter, abundant use of "Christ" is made (1 Corinthians 1:6, 12-13, 17, 23-24; 3:23; 4:1, 10; 5:7). To understand these titles, the reader must know the meaning of "Christ."
Jews and Political Correctness
Yet another predominant figure of the TNIV is its treatment of 'Ioudaios the use of which term is a stylistic peculiarity of the gospel of John with 71 references.2 With the definite article this term has traditionally been rendered "the Jews" despite the fact that Jesus and all of the Twelve were Jews themselves.
The NIV has 60 occurrences plus three more supplied for pronouns. Uses of the term may be divided into three categories: (1) Neutral references (as far as Jesus is concerned) to the Jewish people (John 4:9, 19, 22; 11:19, 36; 18:20). (2) References to those who believed in Jesus (John 8:31; 11:45). (3) Those in opposition to Jesus and His teaching. Seeking to avoid an impression of anti-Semitism, the TNIV absolves the Jewish people by translating hoi 'Ioudaioi as "the Jewish leaders" (John 1:19; 5:16; 7:1, 11; 9:22; 18:14, 28, 36; 19:31; 20:19) in cases where Jesus is being opposed. Thus the leaders are made responsible for opposition to Jesus' teaching and for His death. The position is politically and socially correct at the beginning of the 21st century.
I have serious misgivings about this type of revisionist history. Involved is whether the practice harmonizes with the purpose of the writer of the gospel of John. Furthermore, the policy has not succeeded in a complete exoneration of the Jews. There is still opposition that cannot be traced to the leaders. Passages in hostile settings still read "the Jews" in the TNIV (John 3:25; 6:52; 10:19, 31; 11:8, 45, 54).
None can question the opposition of the Jews to the Christian movement as reflected in Matthew 28:15 and in the repeated use of "the Jews" in the Acts of the Apostles with its 60 examples in the NIV (cf. Acts 13:50; 14:2, 4, 5; 22:30; 23:12, 20, 27; 24:5, 9, 19; etc.). Here the TNIV uses "Jewish leaders" more sparingly (Acts 13:50). Acts 14:5 and 28:17 fall in a different category, for the text there is explicit that leaders are spoken of. Tension between Jews and Christians is reflected in the Apocalypse (Revelation 2:9; 3:9).
Also to be considered are New Testament summaries of what had happened to Jesus. In this debate, it seems to be less objectionable to recognize that chief opposition came to Paul from the Jews (which is undeniable) than to recognize their part in the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the question is not so easily solved if one takes all that is said in the New Testament. Peter asserts to a Jewish audience, "You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate," while adding, "I know that you acted in ignorance as did your leaders" (Acts 3:13, 17). "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire _" (Acts 4:27). Paul in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia charged, "The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus" (Acts 13:27). "Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed" (Acts 13:28). Opposition to Paul and Barnabas came from "Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders" (Acts 14:5). To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote of the Jews "who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out" (1 Thessalonians 2:15).
Perhaps we would be better in dealing with anti-Semitism to emphasize that Jesus prayed for those who mistreated Him (Luke 23:34) and to recognize that modern people (whether Jews or Christians) are not responsible for what their ancestors did 2,000 years ago.
Gender Inclusive Language
While the shift to gender inclusive language as with the New Revised Standard Version, New Living Translation, Contemporary English Version, and New Century Version makes up less than 30 percent of the changes in the TNIV from the NIV, one does not have to be a clairvoyant to project that a large percent of the debate over the TNIV will center on this feature. About six years ago a heated debate racked the evangelical community and ended in a decision not to make the language of the NIV gender inclusive although the New International Version - Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI) had already been issued by the British.3
In both Hebrew and Greek the masculine was at times gender inclusive as English was until about two decades ago. The feminine has not been considered gender inclusive. English usage is changing so that on television, in newspapers and in literature "man/men," "brother/brethren," "son" and the third singular masculine pronouns "he/him/his" are no longer acceptable in some circles as gender inclusive terms. One no longer speaks of "chairman" but of "chairperson." The revolution is still in process. About the only "man" words remaining acceptable are "human" and "humanity" (cf. Matthew 21:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:21), neither of which is in the KJV at all.
The TNIV has retained unchanged the male images for God, Christ, the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-15; 1 Peter 1:11), and the devil/Satan (Matthew 12:24; 25:41; Luke 4:6, 13; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 11:14; 1 Peter 5:8-9). The masculine pronoun is regularly used for each, and the Father-Son image is used for God and Christ. No effort is made to change the gender of any person. Contrasts remain between men and women (Matthew 24:40-41; 1 Timothy 2:8-9). Teaching indisputably aimed at males alone or describing them continues to be expressed in male images or with masculine pronouns (e.g., Matthew 20:12, 20, 24).
Teaching judged to include both men and women is expressed in terms that are gender inclusive by various techniques, the validity of which will be the center of debate. Anthropos/ anthropoi in such cases becomes "person," "anyone," "people," "someone," "whoever," and the like. "Whoever comes to me" (John 6:35) stands instead of "if any man comes" (NIV) for ho erchomenos. "A person is justified" instead of "a man is" (Romans 3:28).
Adelphos/adelphoi instead of "brother/brothers" becomes "brothers and sisters," and the TNIV is shockingly replete with examples: e.g., "If a brother or sister sins" (Matthew 5:23; 18:15). Christ "is made like his brothers and sisters in every way" (Hebrews 2:17). One might observe, however, that when Scripture wants to talk about physical brothers and sisters both terms are included (Matthew 13:55-56; 19:29; Mark 10:30).
It is complete conjecture that women are also included in the greeting of Romans 16:14 which uses adelphous. The NRSV and NLT have a footnote option of "brothers"; CEV has "our friends." Conjecture is also involved in "the brothers and sisters who came from Macedonia" (2 Corinthians 11:9).
Huios/huioi instead of "son/sons" becomes "child" (Matthew 23:15) and the plural "children" (Matthew 17:25-26; Hebrews 12:5). There are "children of God" (Matthew 5:9; Romans 8:14; etc.). "Many sons" (NIV) becomes "many sons and daughters" (Hebrews 2:10). One may be reminded that when a Greek writer wanted to say "sons and daughters" both terms were included (2 Corinthians 6:18). The translation runs into difficulties when the first line of the quotation (Hebrews 12:5-6) huios is rendered "son," but in the last line the same word is rendered "child." In Galatians 4:6-7 huios is used four times with a connection between the believer as huios and Christ as huios. The first two are rendered "son," but the second two as "child." The non-Greek reader would never make the connection of the uses of huios in this rendering.
"Ancestor" is used instead of "forefather" (Acts 13:17, 32, 36; 15:10; Hebrews 1:1).
English usage has not yet developed a common gender third person singular pronoun. One cannot say in gender inclusive language "If anyone would come after me let him take up his cross." The technique adopted in TNIV is to recast such statements in the plural. "Those who want to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them" (John 14:23). A third person admonition may be recast as a first person one: "We ought to examine ourselves before we eat of the bread and drink of the cup" (1 Corinthians 11:28). At times third person sentences are recast into second person ones (James 5:13; 1 Peter 1:9; 1 Peter 3:10). It is argued that statements are more forceful in English when addressed directly to the reader.
The rule of agreement in number is ignored: "If one of you should wander from the truth, and someone should bring them back" (James 5:19).
Critics of these techniques insist that they change the meaning of Scripture statements; champions of them affirm that they do not. Space does not allow a statement by statement evaluation. While the picture presented in Acts 6 fits 21st century culture, in the light of what is known of first-century Jewish culture, I have serious doubts that the apostles would have said, "Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you" (Acts 6:3). Neither is it clear in the light of the policy being used why "son" is retained in Matthew 7:9-10. Could not a daughter ask for bread and fish? One wonders why Matthew 23:8 retains "brothers" only. The chapter addresses the crowds and the disciples. TLB thought women were not addressed in Paul's Areopagus address; TNIV thought they were and rendered andres athenaioi as "People of Athens" (Acts 17:22).
The writer of the Acts of the Apostles has numerous examples of distinguishing between men and women (Acts 5:14; 8:3, 12; 9:2; 17:12; 22:4). Had he intended to include women in the count of Acts 4:4 which uses the genitive andron, he could easily have done it. The same Greek andres is "man" in another count (John 6:10). One doubts that "number of believers" is a true equivalence. The footnote ("Or men") seems a preferable choice.
The NIV rendered two different verbs identically as "abolish" in Matthew 5:17 and Ephesians 2:15, having Paul declare that Jesus did what He said He did not come to do. While retaining "abolish" in Matthew 5:17, TNIV renders Ephesians 2:15 as "by setting aside in his flesh the law."
Readings that were only listed as marginal options in 1984 get moved into the text in the TNIV. The multiple use of "Messiah" is an example. Another is that Phoebe becomes "a deacon" in Romans 16:1. The NIV has "servant" with "deaconess" only in the margin. "The Day of Atonement" (Acts 27:9) with the note, "That is, Yom Kippur" replaces "the Fast" of NIV.
The feminine name "Mary" needs no elaboration (Romans 16:6); on the other hand Persis, with its feminine modifiers, is not a known English feminine name. The TNIV supplies the information obvious to a Greek reader though unstated that she is "another woman" (Romans 16:12).
There are other elaborations of various sorts. "I call God as my witness - and I stake my life on it" (2 Corinthians 1:23) enlarges on NIV, "I call God as my witness."
The Greek euphemism gynaikos haptesthai which the KJV/RSV/ NRSV rendered "touch a woman" (1 Corinthians 7:1) became in NIV "marry" and is clarified in TNIV as "have sexual relations with a woman."
One is rocked on his heels when he encounters ekdechomai rendered as "When you come together to eat, make everyone equally welcome" (1 Corinthians 11:33). All translations and paraphrases (including NRSV, CEV, NLT) I have checked rendered this term as "wait for one another." The new third edition Arndt-Gringrich-Danker lexicon confirms that meaning.
No Perfect Translation
While I am neither a proponent of nor a supporter of some of the techniques used in preparing the TNIV, if I were to study it, I would arrive at the idea that God exists and demands that I serve Him alone (1 Corinthians 8:5-6; Hebrews 11:6). I would know that He gave His Son for me (John 3:16). I would learn that I am not justified by faith alone (James 2:24; Galatians 5:6). I would be told that I must have faith, that I must be baptized (John 3:5; Acts 2:38), that baptism is a burial (Romans 6:4), that it saves (1 Peter 3:21), and that I should arise from baptism to live a new life (Romans 6:4). I would have the example of the church in Troas of breaking bread on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) as well as the instruction to put aside money on that day (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). I would be taught that I should live a self-controlled, upright and godly life in the present age while waiting for the appearance of the Savior (Titus 2:12-13). I would be warned that the wicked go away into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).
There are no perfect translations. A more careful review would turn up other excellencies as well as additional questions. A complete review can only be given when the translation is finished in 2005. In considering Bible translations, one should follow the admonition of Paul to the Thessalonians about prophecies: "[T]est them all; hold on to what is good, reject whatever is harmful" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).
Jack P. Lewis is a professor of Bible at Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1000 Cherry Road, Memphis, TN 38117. He may also be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV (2nd ed. Reprinted. Henderson, Tenn.: Hester Publications, 1991), 293-328; Questions You've Asked About Bible Translations (Searcy, Ark.: Resource Publications, 1991), 225-242. Available from the author.
2. An extended bibliography is in Tina Pippin, "'For Fear of the Jews': Lying and Truth-Telling in Translating the Gospel of John," Semeia 76 (1996):81-97.
3. Wayne Gruden, "NIV Controversy: Participants Sign Landmark Agreement," CBMW News 2 (June 1957): 1-6; A. J. Kostenberger, "The Neutering of 'Man' in the NIVI," CBMW News 2 (June 1987): 8-12. "Do Inclusive Language Bibles Distort Scripture?" Wayne Gruden, "Yes," Grant Osborne, "NO," Christianity Today 41 (October 1997):26-39. D.A. Carson, The Inclusive Language Debate (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 231 pp. V.E. Polythress and W.A. Gruden, The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2000), 377 pp.
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